Books Literatura Europa Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet in Arsenault’s “Alpha”


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

Apart from Beatrice Alemagna, I am in love with Isabelle Arsenault’s picturebooks. When I found out that she created a unique alphabet book, I made sure that I purchased a copy for my higher-degree students.


Written and Illustrated by: Isabelle Arsenault
Published byWalker Books, 2015. First published in Canada in 2014. ISBN: 076367852X (ISBN13: 9780763678524)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I have a collection of alphabet books, especially ones that are strange, odd, and simply out-of-the-ordinary (see examples here and Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies here). I honestly did not know what to expect from this book in the beginning, as I bought it for the simple reason that it was created by Arsenault. I literally squealed in delight as I flipped through the pages:

As it gradually dawned on me that this was the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, I immediately called my husband who used to be an air traffic controller. This is the language that they use with pilots from different parts of the world, to ensure that they understand each other as they spell out their words to each other in radio communication:

I especially like Arsenault’s artistic interpretation of each word that stands for each letter – just look at Romeo and Juliet here:

While a lot of the visual allegory may be lost to young children, this is precisely the reason why adults need to mediate sophisticated picturebooks such as these. There simply is no shortcut around it. In fact, more than anything, its potential to inspire questions, to engage the reader, and to infuse the images with the reader’s own understanding is just so rich, I was floored away by this book:

The image above is my favourite. It shows how this singular image can serve as a writing prompt for young writers. What could the story be in this picture? There is also a detailed note at the end that describes what the NATO Phonetic alphabet is, and its many uses, as well as when it has first been used in 1956. This is definitely an alphabet book that you should add to your collection.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

5 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet in Arsenault’s “Alpha”

  1. It’s amazing how super creative simple things like alphabet books have become over the years.


  2. I love this book! My partner worked in air traffic control as well (as a software developer), so this was a language he knew, too! I love that creators are pushing boundaries and creating such imaginative, sophisticated books that work on different levels with different audiences.


  3. annettepimentel

    What a brilliant idea for an alphabet book. I’m always trying to remember the right word for each letter when I spell my name over the phone. I think I need this book to impress them into my mind.


  4. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] My 2017 in Books, Reading Stats, and Best Books Read in 2017 Across Genres – Gathering Books

  5. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] An Alphabet Mini-Biography in “Alphabetics” – Gathering Books

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